Feature Student: Catherine Pratt
I first met Catherine Pratt during our work together on last fall’s production of The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Catherine was our stage manager and while I did recognize that she did a lot of work, I confess I didn’t pay much attention to what she was doing; I was mainly concerned with my own role. It was only during the last two nights of the performance that I began to appreciate all that she had contributed to the show. She wasn’t a stage manager for herself; she was a stage manager for us. She was our resource. She completed her duties in such a quiet way that I didn’t even notice her behind-the-scenes work, and she demonstrated respect for everyone.
It can’t imagine that it’s easy being a stage manager; they have to keep track of everything and everyone. They’re often saddled with the responsibility of coordinating schedules and relaying instructions to cast and crew outside of play practice. It’s the stage managers who make production run smoothly, which is no small order.
Andy Henrickson, Director of the Benedictine Institute and long time member of the MMC theatre community, told me that good stage managers are born as such. He says lots of people have organizational skills but what makes Catherine stand out is “[Her] focus, determination, and professionalism. She presents as an upper-classmen.” This is a common thread in her story: people can hardly believe Catherine is a freshman.
“The Catherine Story” goes something like this: Catherine went to school in Lamaars, Iowa. She danced for ten years but during her junior year of high school, unforeseen circumstances led her to spend less time with dance and more in the theatre. During her junior year, she stage-managed her first show and she “fell in love with it.” Her senior year rolled around and she hadn’t considered attending Mount Marty College until T.J. Smith visited her school during Catholic Schools Day. Coming from a class of forty-four, she liked the personal touch MMC offered. She met with Andy during a college visit and she decided to minor in theatre. On the first day of class she committed to the role of stage manager for Spelling Bee, and a month later she was faced with the challenge of convincing her parents that being a theatre major was the best thing for her. Catherine says, “I told my Dad ‘theatre is where my heart is at, and he said ‘go for it’” After Spelling Bee, Catherine was chosen to represent Mount Marty as a stage manager at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) last January. At the festival, Catherine presented her prompt book, which is a stage manager’s Bible of sorts, and a resume. She also stage managed a small production and interviewed with production evaluators. She remembers very clearly the awards ceremony during the last day of the festival. After sitting through two hours of awards, she was ready to leave. “Then they get to all the design expos awards and they say they have over forty,” she says, “and now I’m like ‘I just want to leave now!’ Finally, they do stage management fellowship. Honorable mention, said the name, honorable mention, said the name. And they go, ‘Second place from Mount Mar—‘ and that’s all I remember.”
When word of Catherine’s recognition reached Yankton, those involved in theatre and the KCACTF were excited for her, but we weren’t terribly surprised by it; we knew Catherine was talented. We didn’t, however, fully understand the significance of this particular recognition. It turns out out that Catherine’s second place award in the stage management challenge is anything but ordinary. Henrickson says usually the panel of judges just recognizes first place and an honorable mention, but this time, “They were so impressed with her, and the fact that she’s only a freshman, that the team of people felt she needed to be recognized.” Andy says his colleagues at the festival expressed disbelief at her level of maturity.
Catherine brings a lot to the table, but she’s also had help along the way. She has worked closely with Theatre Design and Technical Director Jim Hovland, who throughout his education and professional career, has worked with many stage managers. He says the theatre department recognized her organizational skills early and “steered” her to stage management. “Within five months, she’s been recognized in our region for being a very good stage manager. That’s a very short time and not a lot of training. So, her calling to that is really strong.” Catherine laughs and says that some days she spends so much time in the theatre that Jim has to kick her out. “He tells me ‘go eat something.’”
Her commitment to her work is continuing to pay her back as she’s already landed jobs for this summer. Catherine will be working with Morning Side College to stage manage two musicals. She says after a two-week rehearsal period, each show will run outdoors for three days to an audience of seven hundred people. “It’ll be a new experience,” she says, “learning how to deal with things you can’t control such as the weather.” She adds that she will also be helping with a symphony concert and could potentially work on a children’s production. “I’m hoping to gain experience with other directors and designers, I’m hoping to work with people with other views, and I’m also hoping to continue improving my skills as a stage manager.”
If what Andy says about stage managers is true, that they’re born, then Catherine Pratt was born to be a good stage manager. It makes sense: if she wasn’t, I doubt she would be able to handle all of her duties in such a positive and friendly way. Personnel in the theatre department say she’s looking to branch out in other areas of theatre. “This is only the beginning for her,” assures Andy. So perhaps saying Catherine was born to be a stage manager is too limiting. Maybe it would be better to say that she’s born to succeed at whatever she puts her mind to.